Sunday, March 3, 2013

OBJECT #20: Giant “Thumb Guys”

 (as some people in my household call them)



    These are huge versions of those little fingerprint people that show up in my science books.  I made these large fingerprint people to take along to a curriculum fair a few years ago.  I thought two of these guys perched on my table would be eye-catching.  They don’t usually sit on top of my cabinet doors.  I just propped them there for the photo.  They usually lie flat somewhere.  (Though they did sit on my mantel for a year.)

    I’ve never had names for these things. “Thumb print people” is usually my default term, but to be more accurate they are prints of my index finger, not my thumb.  So why do I call them thumb print people?  I don’t know.  (But talk about leaving your fingerprints all over your work...)

    They were originally invented during my teen years, and I think my sister gets credit for making the very first one.  She’s a writer now, not an artist, so this could be her biggest contribution to the world of visual arts.  I picked up on the idea right away--so quickly that we remember it as always being something we did together.  About the time I went off to college, I tucked those early cartoons into a drawer and didn’t think about them for a number of years.

    When I began to write “The Elements” I knew I had to make the subject of chemistry seem friendly, and maybe even silly, to prevent kids from being afraid of it.  I decided that I needed some silly cartoon people to sit in the margins and say funny things.  I also knew I didn’t want to draw complicated cartoon people over and over again.  What could I use that was ridiculously simple, yet very effective?  I immediately thought about those old fingerprint cartoons I used to make.  They turned out to be perfect.  Once I started using them I couldn’t stop.

    I’ve had lots of feedback from parents about how much their kids love these fingerprint characters.  In fact, some parents have told me that their kids will go through and read all the cartoons first, before they even read the lessons.  (Bet they peek at their Christmas presents, too. ;)  I decided not use the fingerprint people in the “Mapping the World with Art” curriculum because I wanted to pitch it to older students.  However, my friends in France (who translate my curricula into French and sell it to francophone homeschoolers) decided that even “Mapping the World with Art” had to have the fingerprint people, so they borrowed pictures from other curricula and created captions for their French version.  (I studied enough French in college that I can basically read the French curricula (with a little help now and then from online translation programs) and I love to read how they translate the many idiomatic phrases used by the “bonhommes.”)

    They’ve never had names and I’ve tried to avoid thinking of them as two separate characters with different personalities.  I’d like them to stay similar enough that they are both equally capable of being intellectual or silly. In the “Cells” curriculum I did make one of them the official complainer, however.  That’s the only book where there is a basic scenario that is consistent all the way through (one of them has a remote control and can pause the book).  When just one thumb guy shows up on a page, you are never sure which one it is.  That’s because I don’t know which one it is!  But that’s intentional.  I like to keep myself guessing, too.

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